Beverage ban aims to curtail teen alcohol use

2 Howard schools won't allow any drinks into games

October 05, 2007|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,Sun reporter

Fans at two Howard County high schools are being told to leave all beverages at home when they attend athletic events in an effort to combat what one school official called an alarming level of drinking among students.

Administrators at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia and Centennial High School in Ellicott City separately instituted the ban in the past two weeks. The edicts, which apply to both students and adults, allows fans to possess only beverages that have been purchased from concession stands.

Vincent Parnell, athletic and activities manager at Wilde Lake High School, said the policy is needed because underage drinking at sporting events is rampant.

"In my 30 years of working in schools, I don't know if we've ever seen this much drinking," he said.

The beverage ban - including bottled water - will be enforced for the first time at Wilde Lake's varsity football game tonight against visiting River Hill High.

The ban is part of the "new and bolder" steps that school systems nationwide are using to thwart underage drinking, said Stephen Wallace, chairman and chief executive officer of Massachusetts-based SADD, Students Against Destructive Decisions.

"I think it is a logical step in the comprehensive strategy to address the epidemic which is underage drinking," he said. "They are common-sense approaches to keeping young folks away from alcohol."

The Baltimore City school system has a similar rule that prohibits fans from bringing beverages to sporting events.

In Howard County, individual schools are permitted to decide whether to prohibit fans from bringing beverages to games.

"I wouldn't be surprised if other schools followed," Parnell said. "My thought is that it should be a countywide initiative. It's one of those things that you cannot ignore."

Anne Arundel, Carroll and Baltimore counties do not have systemwide rules prohibiting outside beverages at school sporting events, officials said. It could not be determined yesterday whether individual schools had initiated such bans, representatives for several systems said.

In Harford County, high school principals observe students during games and can ask someone suspected of drinking to take a breath test, said county schools spokesman Don Morrison. During the past three years, each high school in Harford County has been equipped with a breath alcohol tester, he said.

Underage drinking at sporting events might be popular because young people are emulating adults, Wallace said. "Sporting events have been synonymous with drinking," he said. "Adults are to fault with that. Go to an Orioles or Ravens game, you will see adults who are under the influence of alcohol. I am alarmed by the things that kids have to see."

Centennial Principal Scott Pfeifer said he made the decision to ban outside beverages after a student reported several students were drinking alcohol in the stands at a recent football game.

"Based on that report, we took the conservative route and made sure this doesn't happen again," Pfeifer said.

"I have a general sense that the level of alcohol use with students is higher, and that is troubling," he said. "We've had several alcohol suspensions this year, and that concerns me."

Centennial students have received five of the 10 alcohol-related suspensions in Howard so far this school year, according to county school officials. Wilde Lake students recorded three alcohol-related suspensions.

Mary Jane Barbato-Grauso, president of Howard County PTA Council, agrees with the new rule.

"If the principals feel that this is a means to helping curtail underage drinking at these sporting events, I support them," she said.

Underage drinking has been a major issue in Howard high schools. In the past two years, it has resulted in a fatal car crash, arrests, police citations and students being barred from graduation ceremonies.

Officials at Centennial and Wilde Lake hope that their actions will prevent such incidents from occurring at their schools.

Parnell said he expects little resistance from fans to the beverage ban at tonight's football game, which features two undefeated, highly ranked teams. School officials will be stationed at the entrance to the Wilde Lake High stadium to enforce the new rule. Wilde Lake officials informed parents and students of the policy through an e-mail Tuesday.

"I think 99 percent of people will understand," Parnell said. "It will be for their safety. We're not infringing upon anyone's constitutional rights."

Underage drinking

Recent incidents involving underage drinking in Howard County include:

February 2006: Police said alcohol and speed were factors in a single-car crash that killed a student headed to Mount Hebron High School's Beach Bash II dance and sent two others to the hospital. Five students suspected of drinking were removed from the dance that night.

May 2006: Five Glenelg High School students, including one who was scheduled to speak, were barred from commencement ceremonies for being intoxicated at a school-sponsored dinner and dance.

February 2007: An 18-year-old man died after being struck in the head with a baseball bat in a late-night melee involving youths from several schools at Mount Hebron's football field. Police said some of the participants had been drinking. Police issued 15 citations that night for underage drinking during a raid on a house party near the football field.

April 2007: Several Howard high school principals sent home letters to parents warning them against hosting parties where alcohol is served.

[Source: Sun archives]

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